Thirty years after a lethal IRA bomb inspired its stark, chilling lyrics, the Cranberries’ song Zombie has experienced an unlikely rebirth as a Rugby World Cup anthem.
Ireland fans have belted out its chorus in stadiums across France and hope to do so again on Saturday after a quarter-final tie against New Zealand at the Stade de France in Paris.
The transformation of Dolores O’Riordan’s scorching lament into a paean of sporting joy has repopularised the song and stirred debate about whether it still represents a repudiation of IRA violence.
The Limerick-born singer’s lyrics – “it’s not me, it’s not my family” – distanced herself and other Irish people from the IRA after a bomb killed Johnathan Ball, aged three, and Tim Parry, 12, in Warrington, Cheshire, in 1993.
“We were on a tour bus and I was near the location where it happened, so it really struck me hard,” O’Riordan told an interviewer. “I was quite young, but I remember being devastated about the innocent children being pulled into that kind of thing.”
The surviving members of the Cranberries said the song’s revival would have delighted O’Riordan, who died in 2018. “We’re thrilled to hear that Zombie has just exceeded a billion streams on @spotify. Dolores would be over the moon! Thanks to all our fans for your incredible support,” the band tweeted last week.
Exuberant scenes of Irish rugby fans roaring “it’s not me” along with music blasted by stadium PA systems have racked up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and millions on TikTok.
Zombie music video
It is unclear how many fans know about or endorse the song’s message. Most are believed to sing along simply because it is catchy and has become the team’s unofficial World Cup anthem.
Even so, some republicans and supporters of the IRA’s armed campaign have bristled at the song’s resurgence. Commenters on social media have been especially indignant at the song’s reference to the 1916 Easter Rising.
“An insult to republicans across Ireland and nationalists in the North,” one person tweeted. “A song mocking the men and women of Easter week and telling the nationalist people of the ‘six counties’ it was all in their head,” said another person on X, formerly Twitter. Some accused rugby fans of being “west Brits”, a term of mockery for Irish people with perceived affinity for Britain.
Colum Eastwood, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party (SDLP) in Northern Ireland, sought to deflate the controversy. “Zombie is an anti-war song written after the IRA killed 2 children in Warrington,” he tweeted. “Stop trying to make it something it isn’t. And stop pretending opposing IRA brutality is the same as supporting British brutality. Most of us opposed both.”
Limerick hurling fans were reportedly the first to adopt Zombie as a sporting anthem in 2018 after O’Riordan’s death. Supporters of Munster, a provincial rugby team that encompasses Limerick, followed suit and the practice spread to fans of the national team.
The dispute over Zombie mirrors a controversy over a Wolfe Tones song that lauds the IRA with the line “ooh, ah, up the ’Ra” – a refrain adopted by crowds at some concerts and football matches.
Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach, said he would sing Zombie if he were at the World Cup. “It’s a great song,” he told the radio station Newstalk on Wednesday. “I think it’s a song that we can all sing comfortably. It’s an anti-terrorism song. It’s not a nationalist or unionist song.”